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This work consists of a series of extended interviews with eminent critics of Freud and psychoanalysis in general. Most deal with the minutiae of the development of Freud's ideas, their relationship to his personal motives, and their logical and epistemological status. The question of the extent to which Freud's views were influenced by his biological background is discussed, and they also seek to provide the historical context in which these ideas evolved. A great deal of fascinating material is presented, little known outside the ranks of specialists. For instance, Freud' own accounts of particular cases are compared with those of the patients themselves, bringing out sharp discrepancies. The interviewers were usually skilful in drawing out and challenging the participants, though at times they interrupted the flow of the argument. From this point of view the interview with Frank Sulloway, historian of ideas, seemed to me the most coherent and enlightening one.
As one might expect from the title, all are essentially engaged in a demolition job, and one wishes that some voice had been allowed to an attorney for defense. The book evoked in my mind an image of vultures feasting on the corpse of Freud. A particularly tasty morsel was Freud's abandonment of the 'seduction theory', and the question is considered whether Freud was the victim of self-deception or simply a liar.
Mixed in with the mass of disparagement there is the occasional word of praise, e.g. the mention that he was at any rate a good writer; or again, after an introduction with a generally negative tone, one is astounded to read that 'Naturally Freud remains one of the undisputed giants of twentieth-century thought.' It is refreshing to note that the critics are by no means unanimous, occasionally poking more or less sly digs at each other. At any rate, although having come across a number of critiques previously, it came as a surprise to the present reviewer that there is still a substantial academic industry devoted to the flaws of Freud and psychoanalysis.
In my experience most present-day academic psychologists have not read anything by Freud himself, dismissing his oeuvre as outdated and discredited. It might be thought, therefore, that it would be salutary for them to read this book and find closely reasoned grounds for their view. Unfortunately the book presupposes a detailed knowledge of Freudian and related doctrines, which at times considerably exceeded the competence of this reviewer. Moreover, it also assumes familiarity with such notions as structuralism, post-structuralism, or post-modernity. The post-modernist position is sometimes simply taken for granted, e.g.' As is well known (my emphasis), the anthropologist's gaze disturbs or even destroys the culture he or she studies.'
This leads me to a puzzling issue, touched upon but not really resolved by several contributors: namely why as flawed a theory as psychoanalysis has still not lost its appeal. In my opinion a significant part of the answer can be found in the statement by Kluckhohn, a traditional (i.e. a modern, not post-modern) anthropologist, to the effect that anthropology needs a 'theory of human nature in the raw'. It is not only anthropologists who need that. All of us have to deal with people of flesh and blood, in whose lives sex, aggression or envy are important. Academic theories of personality, which often deal just with sets of variables, fail to satisfy this need.
© 2008 Gustav Jahoda
Gustav Jahoda, Ph.D. is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His main fields of interest are cross-cultural and social psychology, especially the development of social cognition. He is the author of A History of Social Psychology (Cambridge University Press).
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